Hacksaw Ridge

Going into combat without a gun at Okinawa during World War II? This would appear to be a bad idea. But there is a reason Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) refuses to tote a weapon.

It seems odd that Doss’s true story has not been widely shared in the 71 years since his heroic actions occurred. After seeing depictions of WWII’s key events (Pearl Harbor, D-Day, etc.) on film over and over again, it’s refreshing to learn about this previously lesser-known episode.

Hacksaw Ridge delivers all the gruesomeness of heavy combat but also provides the enjoyable backstory of Desmond Doss.

Doss is a redneck from rural Virginia whose family life is turbulent. His father Tom (Hugo Weaving) is the worst kind of alcoholic. He is abusive to Desmond’s mom. When Desmond and his brother fight, dad encourages them to have at it, even unto the point of serious injury.

When the U.S. is forced into the war, Doss sees other young men from his area join the effort and he, too, enlists. But with one condition: he refuses to carry a gun. He says he is not a “conscientious objector” but is a “conscientious cooperator.”

His military leaders, including his sergeant (Vince Vaughn) and his captain (Sam Worthington), are baffled by his refusal. When court martial punishment is waived, Doss’s training continues and he becomes a medic within a combat unit. Armed not with a weapon but with morphine to relieve pain, he is part of the attack on Okinawa’s Hacksaw Ridge.

Director Mel Gibson opens the film with a brief montage of bloody combat violence and death before returning to Virginia and Desmond’s story. Doss meets and marries nurse Dorothy (Teresa Palmer) before he ships out. An hour or so into the film, the climb begins up Hacksaw Ridge to overtake Japanese troops.

The action is fierce. Doss sees friends die. He sees men suffer serious wounds. When his unit retreats, he stays and pulls to safety many men left behind to die.

Andrew Garfield’s wide grin is well suited for his role as the likable hayseed. But his big hair is a bit distracting. Wouldn’t a WWII inductee have been given a buzz cut in basic?

Hacksaw Ridge brings to mind the 2014 film Unbroken about another WWII hero, Louis Zamperini. I prefer Hacksaw Ridge because Gibson’s storytelling focuses as much on the central character as on the events.

One more thing: If you choose to skip this film because of director Mel Gibson’s alcohol-fueled unsavory behavior a few years ago, consider that he now claims to have ten years of sobriety under his belt. As a longtime fan (going back to The Road Warrior), I hope he stays clean.

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Cloud Atlas

“Cloud Atlas” is just a big ol’ mess. Its parts are good, but the whole is bad.

If you believe in reincarnation, you might love “Cloud Atlas.” For the rest of us, it’s a movie with cool things and interesting people to look at, but the assembled product lacks real continuity.

The film attempts to tell six stories: some from the past, some from the future. Actors play different roles at various points on the timeline and the audience is expected to connect the dots. Honestly, it’s not worth it.

Last year, we had the polarizing “The Tree of Life,” a movie with interesting parts and incredible images, but, as a whole, was a real head scratcher. It was loved by some, hated by many (including many theater walk-outs).

In 2012, we have “Cloud Atlas.” You can go online now and see numerous blurbs touting this movie’s greatness. I beg to differ.

The star power here is strong: Tom Hanks, Hallie Berry, Hugh Grant, Susan Sarandon, Jim Broadbent, among others. It’s slightly interesting to see these folks play multiple roles, although some of the make-up is laughable. (The facial prosthetics used to make Hugh Grant look like a 70-something are embarrassingly ridiculous.)

The film, directed by Tom Tykwer and the Wachowski siblings who brought us the “Matrix” movies, also features Hugo Weaving in multiple roles—none of which are as memorable as his Agent Smith in the “Matrix” trilogy.

“Cloud Atlas” is like a stew containing several of your favorite food items that just don’t work well together in the same pot. It’s big (nearly three hours long), it’s ambitious, but ultimately unsatisfying.